Less is More
A book by Jason Hickel
I love books by David Graeber because as an anthropologist he asks all the right questions. Jason is another English anthropologist to whom he passes the baton.
Till about the 1500s, in Europe, the lands that were used for cultivation were all under the commons. Farmers require to invest money to prepare the land and grow crops so each would take as much as they could afford. The kings would charge a tax on the produce because they needed standing armies to protect those lands. As the farmers pushed back against the taxes that continued to rise, even in times of peace, the aristocracy enclosed those lands in an act that was called Enclosure. They had their armies. This gave the farmers the choice between paying up or dying of starvation.
(Also shows that farming did not result in land-ownership and capitalism; it is the other way around)
And like that began the destruction of resources that belonged to all of us but was appropriated by a few. This today extends to all kinds of natural resources that are exploited only in the service of capital.
We live in a world where we do not understand the interrelationships between things but assume that somehow we can explain it.
We also live in a capitalistic paradigm which promotes growthism. It takes 23 years at 3% compound growth for the economy to double in size and we expect this growth to continue ad infinitum. How is this possible?
In nature, everything grows to maturity and then stops. If a body continues to grow beyond a point we call it cancer but we expect the economy to grow to infinity. Despite knowing this we act as if we don’t understand it.
GDP is not a reflection of the welfare of the people who are a part of the economy. It is a reflection of the welfare of the capital in the economy.
Our environment exists in a balance that allows it to support us. It is a well-known fact that the growth of the economy or GDP brings along with it the rise in energy consumption. No matter what source we use to generate this electricity/energy, it always results in resource extraction. How are you going to build windmills and solar farms without resource extraction? Resource extraction causes a lot of pollution. The pollution goes on doubling as the GDP doubles.
Further, the resources required to make this energy production possible have caused strife in the poor countries which are rich in these minerals. The Western nations want them to bend over and hand over these resources for as cheap as possible. When a nation pushes back, they manufacture regime changes and push forward with impunity.
Elements like Dysprosium, Cobalt, Magnesium and others are essential for the manufacture of renewable energy systems. The entire waterways in South America have been destroyed by the insolent mining of Lithium from their lands.
The countries in the west have built a false narrative around GDP which was proposed by Simon Kuznets after the depression of 1930 as a way of measuring economic output. The problem with GDP is that it works by destroying the fibres of our society.
Take, for instance, an old person at your home. If you were to offer care to them, it does not increase GDP but if you admit them to a hospital or an old age home, money exchange takes place and this increases GDP. If you think of the welfare of the person in question, perhaps being around those they love would provide more welfare but GDP does not care about it. It wants to turn everything into economic value that can be measured by money exchange. This was something that Simon Kuznets had himself warned about when he created the metric. It is unfortunate that the west ran with it and imposed it across the world.
The fundamental fibres of the world economic system are built on false assumptions and false metrics but these metrics are easy to measure.
These roots of capitalism and the way we look at the world were sown by Francis Bacon and René Descartes. They created the dualist conception of the world. We assume that the plants and animals that make up the world are in service of mankind and are meant to be exploited for our pleasure. Companies engaged in scientific research and development today, proudly proclaim that they are at war with nature or seeking to tame nature. We are all part of the same fabric and nature is not meant to be tamed or fought against.
The Sahara desert was formed by the drying of a lake which killed a lot of marine life. This makes the sands in Sahara quite nutritious for plants. The winds in the Sahara desert carry the sand across the Atlantic and feed the Amazon forest. The forest has so many trees that the perspiration of the trees creates weather systems that cause rains in Canada. These are not things that we can disconnect. Nature is interconnected and looking at it as a stupid thing meant to be exploited is a testament to our stupidity not that of nature.
The only way to save ourselves is by rethinking the economic system that we have come to be obsessed with over the past 100 years. We need to question the waste culture where everything from food, to clothes, to energy is wasted every day by the rich. We need to question economic activities that render little to no value. We need to strive for better wealth distribution within the economy rather than live in a world where exploitation is the goal.
Companies like Amazon exploit their workers paying very little for the effort that they put in. Let us watch Jeff Bezos adhere to the ‘pee in your bottle while you deliver the goods’ routine for 6 months. Every billionaire on the planet is one because they have engaged in the gross exploitation of either natural resources or people.
A world where we strive for better income distribution rather than income accumulation would be a world where we would need to produce far less and will still be able to meet the needs of everyone.
This is what we need to strive for if we want to halt the onslaught of the climate crisis that is approaching us.